Thought for the day: Protect your Achilles' heel

Having a single point of failure in your IT system is asking for trouble, whether it comes in the form of ineptitude, accident or...

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Having a single point of failure in your IT system is asking for trouble, whether it comes in the form of ineptitude, accident or malice, says Simon Moores.




I sat at home watching the progress of the London power cut last week and wondered if the cause was really as simple as the cleaner pulling the big red plug at the control centre.

The actual cause turned out to be a piece of equipment that was wrongly installed on the National Grid.

Strangely enough, the day before, I had just finished writing a scenario for next year’s eCrime Congress, which was uncannily similar in its results but involved a software problem instead.

Like many others, I also wondered when the lights went out all over New York, just as W32.Blaster was making the rounds. You see, two years ago, I started writing a book, after a friend in the security services told me how worried the Americans were about their rather flaky power system and that they had run a potential terrorist scenario which involved a conventional or virtual attack on the North-eastern power grid in the middle of a very cold New York winter.

My cybercrime novel never went beyond 30 action-packed pages, as the hero, based loosely on myself, was, unsurprisingly, dumped by the feisty but fabulous Italian heroine in the first chapter.

The idea however, remains valid and illustrates the strength of the "single point of failure" argument, where large and complex systems environments often rely on a controller connected to the very same big red plug that the cleaner might or might not have pulled last week.

And now the good news, if you can call it that. According to the InformationWeek 2003 Global Information Security Survey of 2,500 business-technology and security professionals, the 12 months ending in July saw virus, worm and Trojan-horse attacks hit 45% of the sites surveyed, down dramatically from 66% in the same period two years ago.

Of course, the survey predates Blaster, Nachi and Sobig-F, so the spin might look rather different if August’s tidal wave of business interruption was factored in.

With Computer Weekly’s special report on e-crime appearing later this month, it’s worth noting that according to the latest report from internet security testing specialist NTA Monitor, the financial sector now has the worst record for internet security, with more than 90% of financial organisations showing basic flaws in their security.

NTA Monitor reveals that firewall performance among financial organisations is declining, and that as many as 46% of organisations tested displayed problems in this area, with 38% revealing medium-level risks that could lead to disruption in service or permit unauthorised access if incorrectly configured.

So, on the one hand, institutions are "beefing up" security as a response to recent problems, but on the other, there’s some evidence to suggest that the response is only as good as the configuration of the organisations' most powerful defensive asset. There’s a danger perhaps of a kind of "Maginot Line" complacency creeping in to the corporate psyche that will be swiftly upset by attacks that have yet to materialise.

W32.Blaster was written by an inept, teenage couch potato who may have caused millions of dollars of damage and might even have contributed to the largest power blackout in US history.

So what happens if  someone with a real grudge and a Masters in computing tries his hand at the same thing? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

What do you think?

Have you made contingency plans against a single point of failure?  Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit

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